The Real Deal Part Two: Heavyweight
Updated: Aug 6, 2019
After beating Carlos De Leon in April 1988 to become undisputed cruiserweight champion, Evander Holyfield put on twelve pounds and stepped up to the heavyweight division. His first opponent was James 'Quick' Tllis. The bout took place on 16th July 1988 in Las Vegas. Tillis' first loss came in a WBA heavyweight title challenge to Mike Weaver, losing a fifteen round unanimous decision in October 1981.
He suffered his second loss to future WBC champion Pinklon Thomas, losing in the eighth round in August 1982. He was stopped in the same round three months later by Greg Page in a USBA heavyweight title match. Four wins got him a shot at the vacant NABF championship against Tim Witherspoon. The bout took place on 23 September 1983. Witherspoon wasted no time in picking up the vacant belt, needing only two-minutes and 16 seconds of the very first round. He won another four fights, but dropped a ten round unanimous decision to Carl Williams.
Tillis beat Bashir Wadud, but went on a four fight defeat spree, all by ten round unanimous decisions against Marvis Frazier, Gerry Coetzee, Tyrell Biggs and Mike Tyson. Though Tyson floored him in the fourth round, Tillis got up and became the first man to take him the distance in twenty contests.
He scored wins over Mark Young and Art Terry, but travelled to Sydney and lost a ten round decision to the come-backing Joe Bugner. Winning two and drawing one he lost again to Mike Williams in the eighth round. A fifth round stoppage win over debutant Ronnie Douglas got him a fight in London against Frank Bruno in March 1987. Bruno was last in the ring eight months previously where he lost to Tim Witherspoon in the eleventh round for the WBA belt. Tillis was a bloody mess and stopped in the fifth round. He was back on the road again, losing his next bout by a tenth and final round TKO in South Africa to Johnny Du Plooy.
Tillis did manage to get two wins under his belt before the Holyfield contest, brining his record to 38-13-1 (29 KO's). Holyfield used his speed and jab to take the opening round. Even though The Real Deal was at his heaviest ever at 202 lbs, he still looked small against Tillis' eight pound weight advantage.
Holyfield's speed in round two was a problem for James 'Quick' Tillis, who got his nickname from knocking out his first twelve opponents quickly. The heavyweight debutant unleashed a barrage of punches towards the end of the round, that had his opponent covering up. Holyfield nailed him with hard rights and as the fight got into Holyfield's ring corner there was some afters when the bell rang, with Richard Steele having to separate both boxer's, restraining Holyfield, as Lou Duva held Tillis, which provoked a reaction from Tillis' trainer Beau Williford. Steele then had to intervene between the two trainers, as the two fighters hugged each other as a mark of respect.
Tillis started the third round aggressively, but Holyfield's speed and ring generalship took control as he finished the stanza landing his big rights again, which had Tillis holding and covering up. The fourth round went the same as the previous three, Tillis wasn't offering much in an attacking capacity, as Holyfield's hand speed and reflexes piled up the points advantage.
Again in the fifth Tillis was in survival mode, with Holyfield picking up the pace and getting through with some fast, meaty shots. Towards the end of the round Tillis was on the verge of getting dropped, but managed to hear the bell. He sat in his corner shaking his head, with the referee and then the ringside doctor joining him, with Tillis confirming he had had enough.
Holyfield improved to 19-0, (14 knockouts) scoring his seventh kayo in a row. "It was not my best performance, but I got the job done," Holyfield said after the match. "Weight wasn't a big issue. I wanted to go in confident and bring some strength."
"He is a great fighter," Tillis commented. "Evander is faster than Tyson, he has very good punching power."
Tillis continued to box into the ninety's and the new century. He had his last contest, losing by a ninth round TKO to Rob Calloway on 13th April 2001 and retired with a 42-22-1-1 (31 KO's) resume.
Evander Holyfield next stepped into the ring on 09th December 1988, gaining another eight pounds as he took on former WBC heavyweight champion Pinklon Thomas, who was born on 10th February 1958 in Pontiac, Michigan. At the age of fourteen he had a $150 a day cocaine habit.
He started boxing as a nineteen year old and quit drugs all together. He had only three amateur contests and turned pro against Ken Arlt on 29th August 1978, winning a six round split decision. He remained unbeaten and never heard the final bell again until his fourteenth contest, where he outpointed Jerry Williams over ten rounds in August 1980. Angelo Dundee, his trainer, said that Thomas' jab was "as close to a Sonny Liston jab as I've ever seen."
Thomas kept chalking up the victories and in a rematch with Williams nearly two years later, stopped his man in round two. He inflicted only the second loss of James Tillis' career, stopping 'The Fighting Cowboy' in the eighth. His next bout came against the number one WBA challenger, Gerrie Coetzee. They boxed a ten round draw, Thomas' first blemish on 22nd January 1983.
Four more victories got him a shot at the WBC champion Tim Witherspoon, who won the vacant title by outpointing Greg Page in March 1984. The bout was the champion's first defence, with the challenger winning a majority twelve round decision at the end of August 1988.
Thomas didn't make his first defence until June 1985 where he beat former WBA champion Mike Weaver with an eighth round TKO. He then lost his title and unbeaten record in a close unanimous decision, 115-114 and two cards of 115-113 to Trevor Berbick.
Thomas bounced back with a victory in October of the same year, kayoing Narcisco Maldonado in the fifth round. He won two more contests before challenging Mike Tyson for the WBA and WBC belts on 30th May 1987. Thomas defused Tyson's blistering first round blitz by adopting jab and hold tactics. This worked well until the sixth round as the champion opened up with a barrage of punches that ended his challenge. Thomas dropped to 29-2-1 (24 KO's).
Thomas was out of the ring for over a year before he took on the former undisputed cruiserweight king. Holyfield started fast, landing sharp left hooks to Thomas' head and body. The ex WBC champion's legs stiffened and it looked like an early night for 'The Real Deal'.
But the thirty-year old Thomas stood his ground. He didn't connect with many punches, which reflected Holyfield's dominance with the scorecards, winning no rounds on two of the three scoring officials. Holyfield inflicted a cut beneath his opponent's right eye. He also slowed the pace in the next two rounds, but reignited his fire when he zeroed in on the injury. At the end of the seventh round Angelo Dundee had seen enough and pulled his fighter out of the contest.
It was a workmanlike type of performance for Holyfield, but after his two contests in the top weight division he seems to be gaining his doubters, especially over the power in his punches to bowl over the bigger opponents. "I know I have to fight better than I fought tonight," admitted Holyfield afterwards. "Because if that's my best I don't see myself being heavyweight champion of the world." Holyfield also announced that he had relinquished his undisputed cruiserweight crown.
"Holyfield is real strong and deserves all the recognition he can get," Thomas stated.
"Pink" carried on boxing and won his next contest against Curtis Isaac. He then lost his next three against Mike Hunter, Riddick Bowe and a one round retirement against Tommy Morrison. He stayed unbeaten throughout 1992, cramming in thirteen wins in a six month period. He lost his last contest for the vacant and lightly regarded WBF title to Lawrence Carter on 29th January 1993, via a seventh round TKO. Pinklon Thomas retired with a record of 43-7-1 (34 KO's).
Holyfield then took on another former champion Michael Dokes for his WBC Continental Americas title on 11th March 1989. Dokes had an amateur record of 147-7 and turned professional in October 1976, retiring Al Byrd at the end of the second round. He stayed unbeaten in seventeen bouts and only picked up his first blemish with a draw with Ossie Ocasio in April 1980. Two months later Dokes stopped Ocasio in the first round, knocking his foe down three times to get back to winning ways.
Six more victories put him in line to challenge NABF heavyweight champion Lyn Ball. Dokes, who was ranked the number two challenger by the WBC took only one round to lift the national title. He defended the belt once, knocking out Tommy Franco Thomas in the fifth round. With a record of 25-0-1 (14 KO's) he then challenged WBA champion Mike Weaver on 10th December 1982.
Champion Weaver was a notoriously slow starter and Dokes took advantage of that as he went after the champion from the bell. A left hook staggered the Weaver in the first 20 seconds, dropping him with a follow up left. The champion took the mandatory count and seemed unhurt. He covered up on the ropes as the challenger went for the finish. With one-minute 03 seconds of the contest elapsed referee Joey Curtia stopped the contest.
The crowd let their displeasure be known as a brawl broke out in the ring between the two camps. Dokes wanted the belt that Weaver had worn to the ring, but Weaver's brother took a swipe at the new champion causing the carnage. Due to the chaos in the arena, ring announcer Chuck Giampa decided not to announce the TKO victory and left the ring.
The WBA ordered an immediate rematch and Dokes kept the title with a fifteen round draw. As their first encounter ended in a chorus of boos, so did the rematch, as it looked like Weaver had done enough to regain the crown.
Dokes' personal life didn't match his ring successes as he battled drug addictions for many years and was in and out of drug rehabilitation programs. On losing his WBA strap to Gerrie Coetzee in his second defence on 23rd September 1983, he admitted that he trained for the contest on Jack Daniels and cocaine. The South African took the title by a tenth round knockout.
Dokes returned to the ring in August 1984 and won eleven bouts in a row, picking up the vacant WBC Americas Continental title by stopping James Pritchard in the seventh round. He defended the title successfully against Rocky Sekorski, by unanimous decision. Against Holyfield he was making his second defence.
Holyfield scaled in at a ready 208 lbs and the champion weighed 225 lbs. Dokes started quickly, backing the challenger up. The smaller Holyfield then stood his ground and landed with some good hooks to head and body. The champion, who had fast hands for a heavyweight wasn't used to facing opponents with Holyfield's speed. An accidental low blow towards the end of the round gave Dokes some respite; but Holyfield finished stronger as the bell rang.
The challenger wasn't afraid to trade punches, with Dokes stepping back from the exchanges taking in a deep breath. Another round going to 'The Real Deal". The champion rallied in the third, landing some good, fast combinations. Holyfield stood his ground, but was just shaded on Dokes' work-rate. Holyfield was ordered to go for the body during the minute rest.
The unbeaten man took the centre of the ring and circled his opponent, using the jab to good effect. He had a bounce in his step, where the champion didn't. Dokes fought in spurts, but it wasn't enough to take the challenger out of his stride. Both men continued to swap blows in the fifth round, but Holyfield came out for the sixth meaning business, backing the champion up with some eye catching shots. A point was taken from Dokes' tally due to a low blow. A few punches went in after the bell in the champion's corner, with his team then working on a cut over his left eye.
Holyfield had a big seventh round. He stunned Dokes with a left hook and was targeting the cut left eye with his right hand. The champion was looking weary, but was still in the contest. Dokes rallied in round eight and actually forced Holyfield back on the ropes. The champion banked a rare round, but Holyfield finished the stronger. Dokes came out fighting to start the ninth, with Holyfield more than matching his heavier foe, but fatigue was catching top with the champion.
Holyfield began the next round bouncing on his toes, circling his flat footed opponent and peppering him with jabs. Dokes was trying to get in close, but the challenger's freshness kept him from doing so. Suddenly a left uppercut had Dokes on shaky legs, he tried to fire back and move his head out of harms way, but Holyfield sensing the finish was coming on strong.
Then, a short left hook staggered Dokes to the ropes, a right, left, right combination sent Dokes to the canvas. Richard Steele immediately stopped the contest at one-minute 41 seconds as Dokes' trainer rushed over to see to their spent man. The victory saw Holyfield cement his number one heavyweight contender credentials to Mike Tyson, as he inflicted only the second defeat on Dokes' record and improved to 12-0 (17 KO's).
Michael Dokes won four in a row before being sensationally knocked out in the fourth round by Donovan 'Razor' Ruddock in April 1990. He continued to box, chalking up nine victories, before challenging Riddick Bowe for the WBA and IBF belts in February 1993. The contest took place at Madison Square Garden and only lasted two-minutes and 19 seconds.
Dokes didn't box again until 1995, winning three in a thirteen month period. He lost on points to Luis Monaco in April 1997. He fought for the last time on 11th October 1997, losing by TKO in round two to Paul Phillips. He retired with a record of 53-6-2 (34 KO's).
Dokes' personal demons really took a hold of him as he was arrested in 1998 after his girlfriend told police that he beat her, sexually assaulted her and held her against her will. She also testified that when clean and sober he was a good person, but the drugs and alcohol made him violent. In 2000 he pleaded guilty to the allegations and was sentenced to ten years in prison. He was paroled in 2008 and lived in Las vegas, before returning to his hometown of Akron in 2010 to live with relatives. He died of liver cancer on 12th August 2012 in an Akron hospice.
Holyfield made his first defence of his new crown against Brazil's Adilson Rodrigues on 15th July 1989. Jose Adilson Rodrigues dos Santos was born in Aracaju, Sergipe, Brazil on 12th June 1958. He turned professional in February 1983, knocking out fellow debutant Jose Tavares in the third round. In July that year he took a round to kayo Waldemar Paulino in his fourth contest to win the CBB Brazilian heavyweight title.
He remained unbeaten until getting knocked out in the third round at the end of March 1985 by Walter Daniel Falconi, dropping to 14-1 (13 KO's). He stopped his next three opponents before losing again eight months after his first defeat to the Netherlands Andre van den Otelaar, in the fifth round. He bounced back with a third round stoppage win before gaining revenge over Falconi, picking up the South American heavyweight title. Falconi had to retire in the seventh round due to eye problems.
In July 1986 he also avenged his second loss to Otelaar, kayoing him in the third, to take his record to 20-2 (19 KO's). He carried on winning and in 1987 decisioned former WBA champion 'Bonecrusher' Smith, who lost his last fight to Mike Tyson. In his thirty-fourth contest he fought outside of Brazil for the first time, knocking out Mark Lee in the first round at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas.
Rodrigues returned to Brazil beating Sammy Scaff, James Tillis and Mike Rouse before challenging Holyfield for the WBC Continental Americas title. Yet again Holyfield was giving weight away as he started the round on his toes, circling the number two WBC contender and firing out his accurate jab. Rodrigues was being out worked, but he was having success with his own jab and landing well to Holyfield's body.
The Brazilian came out strong in the second round, forcing Holyfield back and to cover up. The Real Deal fired back and both men let their hands go. Then a right uppercut stunned Rodrigues, who went to throw a shot, but got caught by a right hand, which floored him for the count. Referee Mills Lane counted over the motionless challenger. "I could've counted to fifty," Lane said. "At ten he wasn't moving. That Holyfield has heavy right hand."
"Mike Tyson better get ready," said Lou Duva. "Evander sent a message tonight with that right hand and right uppercut. Tyson will end up in the third row when Holyfield hits him."
Rodrigues stated that he didn't see the punches that knocked him down. "Heavyweights are like that. You get hit and you're down," he said. "I will return to Brazil to rest and think about my life."
He continued to box but after a victory he was hammered in round two again by George Foreman in June 1990. He stayed out of the ring for thirteen months before going on a twenty-two fight winning streak over four years, defending the South American and Brazilian titles. Mike Evans put a halt to his winning ways, kayoing him in the seventh round.
He won another eighteen contests, beating Johnny Nelson along the way for the lightly regarded World Boxing Federation belt with a split decision in August 1995. Four months later he defeated Nelson again, this time via unanimous decision. Pedro Daniel Franco ended his run with a ninth round TKO in May 1998.
Rodrigues won, drew, then lost his final fight to Daniel Frank by a fourth round knockout, after being down in the second and third rounds on 29th February 2000. His record stands at 77-7-1 (61 KO's), with only four of those bouts being outside of Brazil.
Holyfield then took on the unbeaten Alex Stewart on 04th November 1989. British born Stewart represented Jamaica in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. He set up home in Brooklyn, New York and turned professional on 06th September 1986, stopping James Walker in the third round. He amassed a record of 24-0 all knockouts within four rounds, but his calibre of opponent was nowhere near that of Holyfield's. In fact this bout was regarded by many as a just a tune up for his date with Mike Tyson, for the undisputed heavyweight title, but Stewart had different ideas.
Holyfield weighed in a career high at 212 lbs, but only had a one pound deficit against Stewart. Holyfield showed his class in the opening two rounds by getting inside Stewart's defences and landing short hooks and uppercuts to neutralise his opponent's dangerous straight right hand. Stewart's face was reddened by the end of the first round and in round two picked up a nasty cut right eye.
Though Stewart wasn't winning any of the first four rounds, he was still very much in the contest. He never stopped throwing punches and landed enough to keep Holyfield at bay.
Stewart had never been into round five before, but he rocked Holyfield in this round when he landed a left, right, left combination. He was getting through with his right and landing left hooks, but the champion weathered the storm and came back at his man in the sixth. He backed Stewart up with his left hook and fired in two punishing uppercuts. The challenger appeared to be losing strength at this point. He was pinned on the ropes, as the bell rang Stewart stumbled and couldn't find his corner.
The ringside physician was looking at the badly cut eye every round interval since the second, but he didn't stop the fight as the injury wasn't bleeding into his eye to impair his vision. But when he hoisted himself off his tool to start round eight, the cut was streaming. Holyfield then nailed Stewart with a vicious body punch, which could be heard a few rows back midway through the round. The challenger never threw a meaningful punch after that. With his face a bloody mask the doctor halted the contest with just 9 seconds of the round remaining.
"Alex was courageous and a lot quicker than I expected," Holyfield said after the bout. "I thought he was a two, three-punch combination fighter. He was throwing six, seven at a time tonight."
The poor performance of Holyfield's was blamed on the champion suffering from a cold, as co trainer George Benton explained. "He was taking cold medication two days ago and had a vitamin shot. If I'd suggest we postpone the fight, Holyfield would have fired me."
Stewart's manager, Mike Jones, took umbrage to Holyfield's cold. "I think Alex's performance might have had something to do with Holyfield's performance."
Two wins later and Alex Stewart found himself as Mike Tyson's second comeback opponent after the former champion's loss to 'Buster' Douglas. Tyson made easy work of him as he destroyed 'The Destroyer' in the opening three minutes in December 1990.
The following year Stewart was stopped in the fourth round by Michael Moorer, before losing a disputed ten round decision to George Foreman in April 1992. Four more victories set him up with Holyfield again, this time he lost a twelve round unanimous decision to the Real Deal. He stayed unbeaten during 1994 and 95, then lost five of his final nine fights. His last contest took place on 06th June 1999, losing by a second round TKO to Cuba's Jorge Luis Gonzalez. He retired with a record of 43-10 (40 KO's) and died on 16th November 2016 aged fifty-two.
Evander Holyfield saw his June date with Tyson evaporate when James 'Buster' Douglas won the undisputed heavyweight championship in the tenth round on 11th February 1990. Holyfield said at ringside. "My contract isn't just to face Mike Tyson next, it's to face the winner and 'Buster' Douglas is the winner."
As Douglas was bogged down in a legal battle with promotor Don King over a contract dispute, Holyfield took on Seamus McDonagh on 01st June 1990. McDonagh was born in Birmingham, UK in December 1962. He was raised in Enfield, County Meath, Ireland and moved to the States with his father. He called home New York and trained at the B&B club in Brooklyn. In 1985 he won the New York Novice Golden Gloves heavyweight championship. He turned pro in December that year T-kayoing Kevin Denson in round two.
McDonagh drew his tenth contest against Billy Saunders, He then lost his fourteenth fight to Mike Peak who had a record of 4-1-2 on 12th May 1988. McDonagh then went 7-0 before taking on Holyfield for his WBC Continental Americas title.
The challenger came out wild, taking the fight straight to Holyfield who had no other option but to back away. Soon the momentum shifted as a left hook from the champion put McDonagh down. He was up straight away, but was on the brink towards the end of the round. A right from the champion had him on the canvas again, but the challenger managed to hear the bell.
Holyfield worked his jab in round two as he seemed to ease off his opponent and get some rounds under his belt. The third was a bit more action packed as McDonagh fired back when under pressure, but the class of Holyfield told and it was only a matter of how long the champion wanted the fight to continue.
Holyfield picked up the pace again in the fourth round. McDonagh tried to fight back, but as they traded shots, Holyfield's left hook caught him flush and knocked him through the bottom of the ropes. He got up, but Joe Cortez waved the finish at 44 seconds.
McDonagh fought again twelve months later, losing to Jesse Selby by a seventh round TKO. He never boxed again and left the ring with a 19-3-1 (14 KO's) record.
The victory set up an October date against undisputed champion James 'Buster' Douglas.
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